Belgium: ‘Euthanasia’ trial only tip of iceberg?

Belgium : ‘Euthanasia’ Assisen trial of Lieve Thienpont only the tip of the Iceberg?

Some talk about a similar precedent with no consequences in 2006 with Dr. Marc Cosyns

The disturbing evolution about what has come to light with one more professional involved in unlawful practices around euthanasia could be only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Looking back on a precedent in 2006, worries about fair justice can be advanced. Some argue that Ms. Lieve Thienpont could get away with unlawful assisted suicide baring no consequences whatsoever. Four years after the first Belgian Euthanasia law, there was a similar precedent dating back to 2006, with Dr. Marc Cosyns of the University of Gent. Some say he unlawfully killed Suzanne Roegiest (87), who at the time had dementia in an advanced stage and had no signed written statement. Both actions were unlawful at the time, but no thorough investigation was done and Dr Cosyns was never officially accused. The fear today exists that Lieve Thienpont will also not bare any consequences for her actions.

In 2006 (just 4 years after the initial law was voted) Dr. Marc Cosyns (he was the first physician ever to perform euthanasia in Belgium). He is a proponent of total liberty for euthanasia, no strings attached. He published an article in ‘De Huisarts’ (The Physician), which is the leading bi-weekly magazine for Belgian physicians. In it he explained how he had performed euthanasia on an elderly lady having dementia and who had no written ‘declaration of will’. Both were at the time required to perform euthanasia (technically it’s not even euthanasia but assisted suicide – which is forbidden in Belgium). The reasoning why people with dementia are excluded from euthanasia, is of course that the law stipulates that when receiving euthanasia, one should be ‘in full conscience and able’ to make decisions, so as for instance to always allow people to change their minds if they do not want euthanasia in the end. So, some say, according to existing law Marc Cosyns should have been guilty on 3 accounts: 1. Performing euthanasia on someone not in full conscience and being able to make decisions. 2. Performing it without even a previous written declaration of wanting euthanasia. 3. Having in fact committed an act of assisted suicide.

Following this written ‘confession’ in ‘The Physician’, the parliamentary commission had no other choice, than to refer Dr. Cosyns to an investigative judge, who after hearing him, released him, and, after a few months, having made no official accusations, closed the dossier. In the hearing he actually defended himself by declaring that the lady had made an oral statement to him and had asked for euthanasia – but who will tell?

The most interesting part of his article in ‘The Physician’ was probably his last sentence in which he explained, why he performed what he called ‘euthanasia’. He said that he did it, because he did not agree with the restrictions of the law as issued in 2002. So, lets follow this reasoning: I have a cause and am convinced, that the law should be changed accordingly. But then, I discover that many people do not share my interest in this cause or are even against it, all I have to do is kill someone, to get more attention to my cause and push it through. That, some say, is exactly what Dr. Cosyns did: he killed that elderly, dementing lady, not even necessarily to ‘help’ her, but to further his ‘cause’, being to abolish all restraints to perform euthanasia. And that, some say, is actually the real reason for his act.

This unpunished act actually opened a pandora’s box. From that point on – no consequence to unlawfully performing euthanasia – many people could from tehn on, transgress that same law. Since then a completely new atmosphere around euthanasia has entered our country as there are no more barriers. In some of our future reports we hope to bring some examples of this. Ultimately it led to the situation with Lieve Thienpont, but this migth only be the tip of the iceberg.

Dr Cosyns teaches ethics, deontology and palliative care at the University of Gent. He also travels around giving lectures about palliative care – in Belgium today, some say, we have come so far that the term ‘palliative care’ is now used as a synonym for euthanasia. A lady reported to us, that she went to one of his evening presentations about palliative care. At the end it was possible to ask questions. The lady straightforwardly asked him publicly, if he was the person who was questioned in 2006 about Suzanne Roegiest,who was killed. He immediately flatly denied. After the presentation she approached him once more and asked him straight-out, if he had anything to do with it and again he denied any involvement. Much is at stake and many questions are open. How is the case with Lieve Thienpont going to proceed? Will the connections with LEIF come to light. Will other members of the lobby-group be indicted? Will it lead to an investigation into the workings of the Parliamentary Commission on Euthanasia, that should have referred the case to justice? The slippery slope is taking down Belgian ethics and morals at dazzling velocity and thousands of lives are at stake. Those of the weakest citizens in society.

Sources: Het Nieuwsblad, 9.2.2006; Het Belang van Limburg, 26.4.2006; De Morgen, 29.9.2006

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